If a loved one has been diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, then you have likely experienced or noticed unusual changes in their behavior.
People living with frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia may exhibit inappropriate behaviors, saying or doing things they normally wouldn’t.
It can be concerning to see a loved one’s behavior change so suddenly, and sometimes radically, by this rare form of dementia.
Caregivers of loved ones with frontotemporal dementia face unique challenges that can be much different than those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
In this article, we’ll give an overview of frontal lobe dementia, including its variations, go over its symptoms, and explain the differences from Alzheimer’s disease.
What is frontal lobe dementia?
Frontal lobe dementia, also known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD), is a less common variation of dementia that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It’s sometimes referred to as “Pick’s Disease.”
In the brain, there are two hemispheres, each one containing four sections called “lobes.” Frontotemporal refers to the front and temporal lobes, the side lobes, affected by this disease.
As the disease progresses, nerve cells (neurons) in the frontal and temporal lobes are irreversibly damaged, shrinking the brain and causing impaired comprehension, affecting language, behavior, mood, personality, and muscle movement.
Currently, there are two main variations of frontal lobe dementia.
Behavioral variant frontal lobe dementia (bvFTD)
If your loved one has the behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), they may act out in uncharacteristic ways.
Because the frontal lobe is considered the “control panel” of the brain, changes caused by dementia can result in negative behaviors such as:
- A lack of impulses
- Inappropriate touching or comments
- A lack of inhibitions
- Anger and agitation
- A lack of empathy
It’s important to remember that when your loved one acts in inappropriate ways, it’s their disease that’s making them act up, not them personally.
Although the term “Pick’s Disease” isn’t commonly used anymore, it was often used to describe bvFTD.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can also cause similar behavioral issues, which is why your loved one may need to undergo a CT scan to rule out brain damage as the cause of their behaviors.
Primary progressive aphasia
Aphasia is a disorder that affects the brain’s ability to communicate and use language.
You may have heard recently that actor Bruce Willis retired from acting because of aphasia, which impacted his ability to memorize lines and speak with other people.
People with primary progressive aphasia will struggle to find the right words, not recognize certain words, and may speak in broken sentences.
There are two kinds of primary progressive aphasia—semantic aphasia and nonfluent variant aphasia.
Semantic variant (svPPA)
Also known as “semantic dementia,” this disorder causes a dysfunction in the brain’s ability to use and recognize words and language, sometimes called “word deafness.”
When speaking with your loved one with semantic dementia, speak slowly and use a simplified vocabulary. They may have trouble with sentence comprehension and recognizing what you’re saying.
Use the “this or that” method when you need to ask your loved one a question without overwhelming them, instead of speaking in long sentences. Just say “would you prefer this or that?” to limit their choices and help their word comprehension.
Nonfluent variant (nfvPPA)
Whereas semantic dementia causes word deafness and an inability to recognize certain sounds as words, nonfluent variant dementia affects a person’s ability to speak or find the right words to use.
It’s common for people with the nonfluent variant aphasia to struggle to use the correct words or to slur their speech.
You may also notice your loved one’s speaking patterns and even their voice may change as their brain’s language center is undergoing changes.
What are the signs of frontal lobe dementia?
The frontal lobe of the brain is the executive center part of the brain, responsible for most of our social and personal behaviors.
When this part of the brain is damaged, it causes behavioral abnormalities. A person’s personality can radically shift as the disease progresses, causing them to act out in uncharacteristic ways.
For example, your loved one may begin acting inappropriately in public including spontaneous speech or making sexually inappropriate comments to people. Generally, people with frontal lobe dementia will have “no filter.”
You may also notice a lack of personal hygiene, more impulsive behavior, and compulsive behaviors, such as smacking lips, clapping, or tapping.
Eating habits may also change as well, causing your loved one to get a sweet tooth and crave carbohydrate-heavy foods.
It’s also not uncommon for people with frontal lobe dementia to compulsively put items in their mouth, including inedible objects, or eat non-foods such as shampoo or dirt, an eating disorder known as “pica.”
Language issues, including aphasia, can also indicate damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, causing your loved one to struggle to find the right words or appear confused when you’re speaking to them.
Motor disorders are also present in frontotemporal dementia, causing tremors, muscle rigidity, difficulty swallowing, and poor coordination that can increase the risk of falling.
How fast does frontal lobe dementia progress?
Frontotemporal dementia is considered a less common type of dementia with an earlier onset age, usually starting around 45 years old.
The symptoms of frontal lobe dementia start and progress gradually, usually lasting around 8-10 years from the initial onset.
However, it’s common for people with frontotemporal dementia to live much longer than 10 years after their diagnosis.
What is the difference between frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are both caused by the clumping of proteins inside the brain that block neuron signals, eventually causing neuron cell death and brain atrophy.
Alzheimer’s disease affects most of the brain, whereas frontotemporal dementia only affects the frontal and temporal lobes.
However, the two diseases exhibit similar symptoms that can make it difficult to distinguish from each other.
One of the key differences between these two diseases is the initial onset. In Alzheimer’s the average age is 65 years old, but with frontotemporal dementia, it’s usually around 45 years old.
With Alzheimer’s, changes in personality are more gradual. While frontotemporal dementia will cause more noticeable behavioral changes sooner.
Dementia and memory care support at Kensington Place Redwood City
Our community provides a greater continuum of healthcare than you’ll find at most assisted living communities that allow your loved one to age in place.
This means that even if your loved one’s healthcare needs change drastically as their disease progresses, we’re still able to provide the highest levels of care they require.
At Kensington Place Redwood City, we Promise to care for and love your family as we do our own.
If you have a loved one with frontotemporal dementia and need help caring for them, please reach out today to learn how our community can provide them with the best care available.
Looking to join our Kensington Place team? We are currently hiring.